There was a time in our not so distant history, where we had time during the day that was relatively quiet. Even a mere century and a half ago, electricity was a wonderful scientific thing, but wasn’t in anyone’s home yet. This meant that if you wanted music, you had to play it, or have a few friends that did. If you wanted to communicate with someone in a neighboring town, you had to hand a letter to the postmaster. If modern human history is but a small blip on the evolutionary timeline of our planet and species, then these times dominated by electrons are a miniscule part of our past, though sure to make up a great deal of our future.
Without electricity, you were probably free from 80-90% of the distractions that we experience in these modern times. There have been many reports and posts about the ubiquity of twitter feeds chirping, Facebook updates dinging, and constant phone notifications, inciting us to stop what we’re doing and check on our virtual personhood.
It turns out that taking a little time to chill, and kinda do nothing, or at least being mindful, isn’t a bad idea for any of us.
I’m a trainer and coach, and most of the time I’m pushing people to go harder and faster to get through their limits. The great thing about working with the body is that it’s easy to tell how we’re doing. We can compare times from past workouts, weights, and even muscle soreness to determine how the stimulus is working. The brain can be a little more tricky.
Your Brain Needs Downtime
What if you ran a marathon everyday? Unless you’re genetically very gifted, it wouldn’t take long before this amount of constant stimulus and stress on your system would lead to a litany of problems, starting with knee problems, excessive heart stress, and even weakening your immune system.
Whether you realize it or not, if you have no brain downtime, you’re essentially having your brain run a marathon, and often even more, everyday. If the first thing you do is “check your phone” when you wake up, and the last thing you do is “just check my phone” before going to bed, then you’re probably due for a little down time at some point.
Benefits of Downtime
The benefits of having even a little downtime during the day for mindfulness are numerous. Easier to handle emotions, quite literally more brain, helps with inflammation and loneliness, as well as an increase in positive emotions.
Do I Need to Buy Some Incense
Meditations have many forms, but in our western culture, we can make a slight generalization that meditation is doing “nothing.” For me, meditation may, indeed, be sitting with eyes closed and listening to the sound of a fan, or throwing on my headphones to the sound of rain. Another day it may mean me leaving my phone in the car, while I go on a nice slow walk around a park, stopping to smell the flowers along the way. On some days, doing the dishes clears my head better than anything else.
It’s this last bit that seems most intriguing to me. In years past, there were many tasks throughout the day that were almost automatic, that allowed our minds to think during activity. Have you even tried to fill a half gallon bucket with raspberries? It takes a while. And the work isn’t hard, it just is done one berry at a time. Once you know where to look, it’s just an activity to keep your body engaged. The beautiful thing about this is that the mind is active, but can also wander a bit without any danger to the task at hand. You can be picking berries and think of just that, picking berries, or you can notice the breeze as if gently blows, or the warmth of the sun, or let your mind drift ahead a little to the raspberry pancakes that you’re going to make tomorrow. None of this is really in any kind of “rush.” Nor is any of it really urgent either, and that’s what’s key. It gets our brain out of this excitable fight or flight mode, and allows us to just be for a minute.
Is There an App for That
Of course, not all of us have the luxury of being able to step outside into a park, or sit by the lake for our downtime. We can, however take some time to focus on the breath. One of my favorite apps for meditation is called Calm. If you want a Paleo experience without leaving your tech, clicking that link will bring the sounds of nature into your awareness. Playing with the app is great as you can simply listen to sounds or music, or take the guided option to help you on your way.
The One Thing You Can Control
At the end of all this, and almost any meditation training is to focus on the one thing in life that we can truly control. Our breath. You probably don’t have control over traffic, a deadline, or your kids getting pukie last night, but you can control the in & out of that same air that our Paleo ancestors used to fill their lungs. Even with no app, place to sit, or lighting any incense. You can easily take five to ten deep breathes on the subway, or in your car before picking the kids up.
Basic Breathing Meditation – A Moment of Mindfulness
- Find a point of focus, or gently close your eyes.
- Breathe all the air out of your lungs.
- Take a nice long deep breath in.
- Hold it for a count of three at the peak of the breath, before letting it out.
- Repeat at least 5 times, or as many as needed to bring you back to Earth.
The great thing about this Moment of Mindfulness is that it brings you back to that one thing that you can actually control. Your breath.
Make a small practice out of this. Doing it over time actually helps to build a kind of momentum that makes it easier and easier to do.
We spend most of our days relatively unaware and not in the present moment. We have Facebook, Instagram, Words with Friends, and a litany of entertainment/”work” at our fingertips. Technology truly is a wonderful thing, and has brought us countless advances in our lives. However, like nutrition, looking backwards to our ancestors may give us clues about living a happier and healthier life in the present.
These days, when we think of down time, it usually involves some activity to distract us from the world around us. While binge watching Netflix may seem like you’re giving yourself a rest, you could consider that time an active distraction. Even though your body is still while you’re watching, your brain is still actively engaged in the story of what’s happening on the screen.
How to Start
Driving with no radio. That’s right. The next time you are in your car, try not turning on the radio, or listening to any music. Notice how many times you reach to turn the dial on, or how many times you want to touch your phone (STOP TEXTING WHILE DRIVING!). These are habits, or relatively unconscious choices that fill your day with sound and voices, but may not actually improve the quality of your life in the long term.
Meditation – It’s Nothing Really
Meditation, essentially sitting quietly doing nothing, has been a sort of “new age” practice for quite some time. Meditation can also be any kind of activity that quiets the mind. I personally find doing the dishes to be a sort of meditation, it’s just enough to occupy my body while my brain can take a rest.
Mediation can be thought of in many ways, for some, it’s sitting in a pose for a set amount of time, for me it’s doing the dishes.